US comics legend Chris Ware wins top Angouleme prize

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US comics legend Chris Ware wins top Angouleme prize
In this file photo taken on January 23, 2018, Cartoonist Chris Ware speaks onstage at the Shorts Program Awards and Party presented by YouTube during the 2018 Sundance Film Festival at Jupiter Bowl in Park City, Utah. The American Chris Ware, awarded the Grand Prix de la Ville d'Angoulême on June 23, 2021, is the king of the "comic strip", having reinvented a rich tradition of comics in the United States. Faced with the vogue of the graphic novel, with literary ambition, this native of Omaha (Nebraska, center) remained faithful to the clear line and the simple formats of the vignettes for periodicals. By complicating it sometimes. Nicholas Hunt / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP.

by Hugues Honore

ANGOULÊME (AFP).- Graphic novelist Chris Ware was awarded one of the industry's top prizes Wednesday, the Grand Prix of Angouleme, for his work documenting the quiet dramas of suburban American life.

The uncontested king of the genre in the US, the 53-year-old was all but guaranteed to one day win the French award, which celebrates an entire career, having been runner-up for the past three years.

France is one of the most avid comic-consuming nations in the world, and the Angouleme International Comics Festival is widely seen as the industry's most illustrious event.

Normally held in January, it was postponed this year due to the pandemic, but with restrictions still in place for a few more weeks in France, the festival was unable to go ahead physically.

So Ware, author of the classic "Jimmy Corrigan: the Smartest Kid on Earth" based on his own Midwestern upbringing, was forced to accept his award from the United States.

Ware joins a trio of past US winners: Art Spiegelman ("Maus"), Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes") and Richard Corben (fantasy comics).

'Tangled and knotted'

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Ware is known for his meticulous attention to the tiny details of ordinary life -- delivered with simple, clear lines and comforting, rounded figures.

Balancing melancholy with streaks of dark humour, they speak to the anxieties and solitude of modern life -- themes that are not for every reader but have long impressed critics.

"The apparent meticulousness of my stuff only comes from trying to provide as clear as possible reading experience out of the tangled and knotted experience of life as I've come to know it," he told The Guardian newspaper in 2019.

His books are generally long and sprawling, but his immediately recognisable style scored him early success, and led to 25 New Yorker covers.

Ware has previously won Best Comic Book at Angouleme in 2003 for the French translation of his breakout work, "Jimmy Corrigan", and the Special Jury Prize for the indefinable "Building Stories" in 2015.

It was the publication of "Rusty Brown" in 2020, his lauded recreation of a single day in the world of his youth, that appears to have finally tipped the balance with voters for the Grand Prix.

The winner is selected by fellow writers and artists from the industry. There was some controversy this year when a group of French voters lodged invalid ballots in the first round as part of a protest over government support for the industry.

It was not clear how this affected the outcome, which saw Ware go into a second round against two French artists, Penelope Bagieu and Catherine Meurisse, before winning the final vote.

Comics have increasingly thrived in France, with sales up 46 percent in the last decade to reach 591 million euros last year, according to the National Centre for Books, thanks in large part to the popularity of Japanese manga.

Organisers hope next year's edition of the Angouleme festival will go ahead as normal from 27 to 30 January.

© Agence France-Presse

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